Blog 110 – Audio
The contents of this one are very personal.
When somebody tells you that the most important thing in the world is family what do you think they really mean? Is the term “family” a blanket word for the community of people you build relationships with or is it the group of people who you share biology with?
What is family to me?
I can tell you what family isn’t. When I was eight months old, I was taken into care by an amazing whanau who loved and nurtured me but what is also significant is recognizing the relationship I had with my biological parents in that small period of time that I had with them. My reason for being taken away from my parents was because they were unable to care for me. They were unable to create and maintain a safe and loving environment for me to grow up in. Instead, my dad was unable to father me and my mum was unable to mother me. For the respect of their humanity, we will leave it at that for now.
I was told of a time when I reached the age of around five years old, my biological parents used to come over for dinner and I was allowed to spend nights at their place. They were able to build some kind of a bond I guess. That was until they decided to do the magical vanishing act again and leave without making any concerted effort of telling anyone where they had gone. My adoptive mum, who is also my biological aunty, told me that when I was five, just after my parents left, I would wait at our dining room window peeking through the curtains down to where our driveway was, looking and waiting for my parents to come for dinner. Supposedly this behaviour continued for a number of weeks until one day we decided to go visit my parents at their house. When we arrived their house was empty and their furniture had been uplifted. Obviously they weren’t coming back… lol… Since I was five the number of times I’ve seen either of my parents is countable on one hand. A family should never put a young person through that. This is not family to me.
Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t a read for you to start feeling sorry for me. What I’m getting at is there aren’t many things a young person should have to find out. Young people should not have to find out that they weren’t being cared for adequately by their biological parents, not being fed enough food, and young people should never have to find out that they were rejected. Because, as we all know, rejection is a bit of a bitch to deal with especially when you grow up into those teenage years, even in adulthood. I know everyone is capable of feeling some form of rejection but for me, it has had a tremendous impact on the person I am today. Within relationships, within workplace environments, at University, in school, around my flatmates, my mental health is adversely impacted by rejection and the need to feel adequate every day, it’s a pattern of behaviour and it takes time to realize the continuity and hard work to break the cycle.
Family to me were the people who raised me and continued to build on that relationship. They were always the people who solidified my foundation stones. Who chiselled my personality and ingrained it into the being I am today. The many times they taught me to shut up when I was being spoilt and to be strong when others needed me to be. They taught me what love is, not my biological family. Our family grew into this sprawling network of incredible people and the growth is still dynamic.
What is love to me?
Tough love can seem harsh but in reality is often the softest kind. This was the kind of love my dad and my brother used. My oldest brother and my mum used to be the instructors for the Redwoodtown Taekwondo club in Blenheim, New Zealand. He was over fifteen years older than me. His goal was to train young people how to protect themselves by teaching them Taekwondo and to be like Batman. To teach people not only how to protect themselves in a fight but to also be a mentor for others. The objective was to learn to create peace, not how to train to be the best in the world or how to look cool in front of school kids in the playground. Learning Taekwondo wasn’t all about earning rank or feeling better than anyone else, it was about building a family within the community.
My brother taught me how to protect myself using Taekwondo. For almost six of my ten years he was my instructor. Hell-bent on kicking his students’ forearms with his iron-poll-like shins. Slapping us with his palms square in the back if we weren’t running fast enough or punching hard enough. He would also discipline the highest ranking black belts when they used their rank against anyone with a lower rank. A fair system.
One time in class he yelled at me for not punching hard enough. Being the cry baby I was I turned on the tears. The first time this happened my big bro stopped being a drill sergeant, gave me a big hug and let me cool off at the back of the class, at this point I was like 7 years old… The second, third and maybe fourth times I cried in class he became less and less lenient about cuddles and instead adopted the harden up approach. This was my introduction to tough love.
Outside of training, my brother was a pretty chill guy. He would pick me up in his red Nissan Skyline after every school day at 3:10pm. Never late but sometimes early. We’d go grab a sausage roll from the dairy on the way back to his flat and my payment was doing the dishes or vacuuming the lounge. There was a real fairness about him that held fast our relationship as brothers. A tough love approach that was actually the fairest kind.
Soft love is often the more accepting and understanding kind. My mum and sister are the types of people who breathe this kind of love for their family. However, mum is a Maori lady who grew up understanding more about kaupapa or Tikanga, which is the study of Maori social customs, than most people ever will. A skill that not many people have any understanding of anymore.
In western culture, we grow up used to fenced properties, three of four aunties, two of which we’ve hardly met. More Christmas presents under the tree than members of our family. We sometimes grow up thinking that wealth comes through the weight of a person’s wallet and the number of qualifications down a person’s shirt. The biggest difference is that the love is often static. More often than not the tough love approach is applied without the balance of positive enforcement. No role models who will take your side even when you’ve “underachieved”. Love is only ever felt when something is lost and is always trumped by the parental expectation that you become a success. Like every day is a competition.
Whereas in the Maori world, wealth is defined less by what job you’re working and more by how much love is in your family and the fulfilment of each relationship. An invisible force called Mana that can’t be bought and isn’t corruptible. Where every brown person in your neighbourhood is probably your second or third cousin. When you have more aunties and uncles than fingers and toes like every day is a pōwhiri. A much more communal vibe. Two fundamentally different cultures.
In our family, our mum resonates elements of both. It enables her to retain boundaries to protect our family but also allows the loving community-first mentality. Mum and dad used to run a family home for other young people who were taken away from their families. Recently worked as the Children’s Team Director for the Marlborough region. She’s a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo, which is still my senior (second degree [what a loser!]). Mum has a PhD and a whole raft of other degrees. She was once a justice of the peace but relinquished the role to be a marriage celebrant which she still currently is. A superwoman basically…
Mums are always usually super loving sometimes in a suffocating way. My mum told me about the first time she ever saw me with my biological mum she described me as unhealthily underweight and severely undernourished. After going through the reporting procedures and notifying Child Youth and Family (Child Welfare services in New Zealand), she eventually moved mountains and gained guardianship over me!
So what’s the first thing that mum did? She fed me food. Lots and lots of food. So much food that I got chubby. Suffocating love, the accentuated kind, the type that lets you be yourself a little bit more. Like a load-bearing pillar that dampens all of the excess weight that has built up from the tough love dealt out by fathers and brothers sometimes… My favourite kind of love actually…
Family and love.
To me, family is the closest group of people who make huge dynamic contributions to building a stronger relationship with me. Others might say those are people who are “rallies” or family-friends. In my eyes, sharing biology means you hold the keys to the house, you have the biggest right to hold the prestige but without on-going support, it doesn’t make you the pillars which hold up the structure. The contribution and hard work are what amount to love. Tough love, soft love, in-between or both, that preference is up to you. Love can teach you how to protect yourself, how to teach others, how to protect your family, how to uplift a community, to confide in oneself and teach you how to unhinge the many battles we face every day within our own faith, against rejection and to be a better person overall. That is the meaning of love and family to me.
Thanks for checking in!